Front squats are a great exercise to work into your routine, but some of us have a hard time getting comfortable with a bar right in front of our neck and our wrists cocked back. If this sounds like you, we have a few options you can try.
Check your positioning
Before we start talking about ways to modify the front squat, let’s just make sure we’re doing it correctly in the first place. (I, too, used to hate front squats, and this is the main reason I don’t anymore.)
First, make sure the bar is resting on your shoulders. You are not trying to hold it up with your hands. Sometimes people will just have one or two fingers under the bar, rather than gripping it all the way around. This works because your fingers don’t really have to do anything; you just have your hands on the bar for convenience and maybe a smidge of stability. Your hands should be outside your shoulders, by the way, so they’re not pinched between your shoulders and the bar.
Second, push your shoulders forward. I like to pretend I’m trying to touch the opposite wall with my elbows. When you do this, your shoulders will actually move forward on your body (you are “protracting” your shoulder blades) and the bar will move farther away from your neck. Ahh, you can breathe again!
Finally, make sure your elbows are up high, and keep them there even as you get low in the squat. You don’t want the bar to start rolling down your arms.
(This also means you can’t lean your torso too far forward, like you would with a back squat. Staying upright is what makes front squats harder than back squats.)
Cross your arms
Once you’ve found a good place for the bar to rest on your shoulders, and you’ve gotten it forward off your neck, you may still have trouble keeping your fingers on the bar if your wrist mobility isn’t great. That’s ok, we can work with that.
Remember how it’s really our shoulders, not our hands, that are holding up the barbell? That means that as long as your shoulder position is good and your elbows are up, it doesn’t matter much what your hands do. Some people do zombie squats, with arms straight out in front of them. This can be a little scary, so go ahead and put your hands on the barbell in a different way: get it settled on your shoulders, and then cross your arms so each hand touches the opposite shoulder.
Consider using straps
If you have a pair of lifting straps in your gym bag—the kind that’s long and straight with a loop at one end—you can use them for front squats, too. You should still position your shoulders correctly, but holding onto straps can give you a little more control of the bar than the crossed-arms grip.
To use the straps, drape them over the bar where each shoulder will be, and then put each strap’s end through its own loop. This will leave two straps dangling from the bar as it sits in the rack. (Double check that they’re symmetrical.)
Now, when you put your shoulders under the bar, you’ll hold the ends of the straps in your hands. This will look like a normal front squat position, but with the straps giving you a few inches between your shoulders and your hands. This way your wrists don’t have to bend as far, and you may find the grip more comfortable.
Part of getting comfortable with front squats is just getting more used to them, so give yourself some time to try these changes and see if they help. But if you still can’t seem to get in the right position, you may have trouble with something else, like your shoulder mobility. In that case, you may be better off doing other types of squats—zerchers, goblet squats, or good old back squats—or perhaps other exercises entirely.